Vladimir Putin Praises Trump, Says Offer of Wildfire Help Could Herald Restoration of 'Full-Format Relations' Between Russia and U.S.

The Kremlin has praised President Donald Trump for his offer of help in battling wildfires in Russia's Siberian region, which President Vladimir Putin said is a signal that U.S.-Russian relations could soon be restored.

Trump offered assistance in fighting the massive fires, which are currently affecting some 7 million acres—an area roughly the size of Denmark or the Netherlands`–in multiple Siberian regions, state news agency Tass reported.

More than 2,700 responders are currently fighting the Siberian wildfires, according to Tass. Some 390 ground vehicles and 28 aircraft have also been brought in to tackle the blazes, which have prompted the government to declare a state of emergency in four regions.

Putin thanked his American counterpart for the offer, but explained that a fleet of firefighting aircraft had already been formed to address the wildfires. Nonetheless, Putin said Trump's offer was a positive signal, and one that suggested "in the future, it will be possible to restore full-format relations between the two countries."

The White House later confirmed that the two leaders had spoken by phone, Bloomberg reported. Trump and Putin also discussed trade issues, the White House said, while the Kremlin reported that the pair agreed to continue discussions both by phone and in person.

The Kremlin also said Putin thanked Trump "for such attentive attitude, for offering help and support," Tass noted. The Russian Emergencies Ministry had previously explained it was experiencing some logistical difficulties related to the firefighting aircraft, but that "issues of refueling and stationing aircraft and helicopters are being resolved."

But many Russians are angry at the government's perceived slow response to what Greenpeace has described as an "ecological catastrophe." More than 700,000 people have signed a petition calling for a tougher response to the wildfires, the BBC reported.

Despite a range of U.S. sanctions against Russia—put in place in response to Russia's annexation of Crimea, meddling in the 2016 presidential election and attempted murder of a former Russian spy now living in the U.K.—Trump has sought to build a close relationship with Putin.

The president is apparently more sympathetic to Russian wildfires than to those in the U.S. Last year, Trump was criticized for his response to huge wildfires ravaging parts of California. The president claimed that the fires were caused and exacerbated by inadequate forest management and pointed the finger at the state's Democratic leaders.

Trump even threatened to withhold federal funds earmarked for forest maintenance, even as the fires continued to rage and killed dozens of people. Though the president later approved fast-tracked disaster aid, he still proposed slashing funding for the national forest system by 19 percent, Bloomberg noted.

Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump, wildfires, Siberia
Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting on wildfires in Russia's Zabaikalsky region, Chita, April 25, 2019. MIKHAIL KLIMENTYEV/AFP/Getty